Democrat Barbara LaWall, the first woman elected to the office of Pima County Attorney, seeks her fourth term in a challenge from Republican Brad Roach, a former deputy county attorney.
Roach levies his criticisms of LaWall, and she responds to each one.
“My opponent just makes allegations and throws them out there,” said LaWall.
Roach, managing partner for the law firm Leonardo and Roach, describes his former boss as “absent.”
“The only time you ever saw her was when something hit the newspaper, and you got called up to the 14th floor,” where LaWall’s office was located, Roach said.
“I don’t want to let that go unchallenged,” said LaWall, who describes long hours with no vacations. “The absences, if any, have been because I’ve been taking care of business” by meeting with other state law enforcement people to discuss common concerns.
“Those are not junkets, but they do take me out of the office,” she said. “It’s official business, exactly what the folks in Pima County want their prosecutor to be engaged in doing.”
Roach claims morale is low in the department. “A large portion of your job is leadership,” Roach said, making sure deputy attorneys are “out doing their job right, and are happy.”
“They want to be public servants, for the same reason people join the military and the police force,” Roach said. “They get disillusioned by the current county attorney.”
“I have consistently demonstrated leadership, a commitment to prosecution, a commitment to public safety and service,” LaWall said. She lauds her staff of 100 attorneys and related employees as “very hard-working.” Criminal lawyers “burn the midnight oil, they are dedicated, they are our newest and greenest attorneys. They learn really fast.” And the civil division “is very busy, very active.
“One can’t do some of the programs that I’ve done, and creatively and effectively manage the operation for the office, without being a strong leader,” LaWall said.
She speaks with pride about a number of programs, among them the Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center, which was dedicated this week.
“It is an incredible collaboration and a fabulous building,” said LaWall. Abused children can be “treated in a non-traumatic fashion by all the different agencies who are housed there,” among them health care providers, law enforcement, prosecutors and Child Protective Services personnel. “Everybody’s going to be there, and we get to deal with the victimization of that child in a collaborative fashion.”
The effort goes back years. “It’s taken a very long time to make this happen. It’s one of the things I’m extraordinarily proud of.”
She also points to programs to divert juvenile offenders, holding them accountable, applying sanctions and building their skills, competencies and resilience.
“More than 90 percent of kids who go through that program never come back to the juvenile justice program,” LaWall said.
The county attorney’s bad check system has returned more than $10 million to small business owners. “It’s made a really significant difference to individuals in our community,” at no cost to the taxpayer, she said.
The county’s long-standing victim witness program continues to evolve. “Our victim witness program is on the cutting edge of what victim witness programs are all about. We should be extraordinarily proud.” She is “regionalizing it,” opening satellite offices in the Northwest, and in Green Valley.
Roach claims endorsements from people in law enforcement.
“It’s startling, the 12-year incumbent does not have a single law enforcement group backing her up,” Roach said. “I think that tells the story right there.”
LaWall said Roach has “union endorsements. I have the endorsement of the governor, the attorney general, several of the elected prosecutors, and the law enforcement leaders and policy makers in this state.”
Roach said law enforcement wants “intelligent prosecution” of Pima County’s repetitive criminals.
“I would actively target the 10 percent of criminals committing 85 percent of the crimes,” Roach said. “I hear law enforcement say ‘I’m tired of arresting the same guy eight times.’ It takes more than what I call a kind of stone-age prosecution ideas. We have the technology and the information systems to be much more sophisticated in our targeting of people, rather than a ‘one size fits all mentality’ which is true of Barbara LaWall.”
“We target the most serious, the most dangerous, the most violent offenders, and we put them away for the longest period of time to create the kind of public safety this community demands,” LaWall said. “Those are the top 10 or 15 percent of the folks committing most of the crimes. We’ve been doing that ever since I’ve been in the county attorney’s office, which has been 32 years. I’m proud of the fact 70 percent of all the trials we have are of that nature.” She points to a conviction rate of 93.8 percent.
LaWall claims a further crackdown on gun crimes, primarily the illegal possession of weapons by people who are “either prohibited from owning a weapon, or who are picked up with an illegal weapon, because those are among the most dangerous and violent folks.” She cites increased numbers of arrests, convictions and sentences for gun crimes. “We’re doing some pretty smart targeting,” she said.
Roach said he could manage the department’s $30 million annual budget. “A wise man doesn’t know everything, but he knows where to look and who to ask,” he said. “I’m not concerned with the administrative portion of the job. People who will stay are very knowledgeable and can be easily transferred.”
“He has no administrative and management experience to make any sound policy to protect the public safety,” LaWall said. “I run a very cost-effective, efficient office. We haven’t once gone over budget in the 12 years I’ve been in the leadership. We have been very effective.”
The attorney’s office “could always use more” prosecutors, Roach said, but “no government agency can expect to expand right now. It’s her political actions that take up a lot of the time of the county attorney. She has them go to trial in cases that don’t need to go to trial, rather than targeting the people we really should be targeting.”
She said her office sends a higher percentage to prison than any other prosecutor in Arizona. “I think my record is outstanding on that.”